2006 Transcript

Transcript of Foreign Minister’s August 2 regular briefing
Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal regular press briefing, Jeddah, August 2, 2006. Translated from the Arabic.

PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL: Within the framework of the Kingdom’s consultations and contacts to contain the crisis in the Middle East region, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian Monarch His Majesty King Abdullah II.

I have also conveyed, in the company of His Royal Highness the Secretary-General of the National Security Council, messages from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to the leaders of the UN Security Council permanent member states.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia attended the Rome conference on Lebanon with the aim of supporting Lebanon by coordinating with it. Due to Lebanon’s stance and the support of the Arab countries attending the conference, the majority of the participants were convinced of the need for an immediate cease-fire and to support the legitimate Lebanese authority extend its sovereignty throughout the country. 

The Kingdom views the current international efforts to contain the crisis as still inadequate to achieve their aims as long as Israel continues its hideous attacks on Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and in view of the catastrophic fallout of such attacks.

The horrific criminal act against the village of Qana in southern Lebanon a few days ago that killed dozens of innocent people, mostly women and children, is a tragic reminder of what can happen in the future if there is no immediate and decisive cease-fire.  This will also be the case if there is no immediate halt to all military activities to allow delivery of urgent humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people to help them overcome their harsh daily living conditions and find the appropriate means to a political solution through dialogue.

The efforts to resolve the crisis between Lebanon and Israel must focus on supporting Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty, and the expansion of the control of its legitimate government to all its territory in accordance with the Taif Accords, which were accepted by all sects of the Lebanese people and supported internationally by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The international community must also deal seriously and firmly with the tragic situation of the Palestinian people, who are still suffering a great deal as a result of Israel’s policies as well as its repressive measures, its unfair economic and political blockade and harsh collective punishment. The international community must deal with, and resolve, the roots of the conflict; partial solutions have proven to be rather ineffective in finding a just and comprehensive solution. They also failed to bring about security and stability in the region and in the whole world. 

It goes without saying that the proposed solutions will not be successful if they fail to consider the unity of the Lebanese, the Palestinians, and the Arab nation when addressing the issue, and talking on behalf [of the Arab nation] with one language in international forums and the UN. Moreover, any solution that does not take into consideration [Arabs’] confrontation with the ideological orientation that is trying to undermine pan-Arab security, ignite the region and sow the seeds of discord and division among its members –  as happening in Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territories, and now in Lebanon –  will also fail. 

QUESTION: Your Highness, there are clear differences in the positions of various countries, which we can call decision makers, over a cease-fire or the attacks against Lebanon. For instance, we see the US secretary of state saying that there is a probability of a cease-fire soon. At the same time, we see the Israeli prime minister saying that there will not be a cease-fire unless multinational forces are deployed, which means a longer time and more attacks. Your Highness, does this mean that Lebanon’s crisis has reached a dead end? Another question if you allow me: Syria had recently put its armed forces on the alert in light of some hints that Syria would be attacked. What is the position of Saudi Arabia if Syria comes under attack by Israel?

PRINCE SAUD: I have mentioned that the efforts that are being made now for a cease-fire are less than reaching the goal that we wish to achieve. Naturally, Israel does not want a cease-fire because this is its policy and it strives towards dubious aims in Lebanon and wants a longer time to finalize its goals. However, what makes one annoyed is that there are those who turn a blind eye to this. In this regard, we differ with US policy as we believe that the United States is a super power and is able to strive for an immediate cease-fire. We hope that the US position will change to one that strives for an immediate cease-fire.

As for threats against Syria, in the statement issued by the Kingdom a few days ago, we warned about the danger of this conflict spreading if it continued. Naturally, in the event of any threat to Syria, which is a member of the Arab League, the Arab countries will stand against any aggression against any Arab country.

Q: The Kingdom took a clear stand with regard to the events in the region. Is there a mechanism to turn positions into action?

PRINCE SAUD: All the efforts that the Kingdom is undertaking under the directives of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques are attempts to translate these positions into reality. There are contacts at the highest levels by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques with a number of presidents, and the Kingdom will exert more efforts in this respect.”

Q: What is your response to those who doubt that the Kingdom is standing by Lebanon? The second question, following the Israeli arrogance and its continued killing of children and women, does Your Highness believe that the time is ripe for a summit in order to unite Arab ranks?

PRINCE SAUD: Regarding those who doubt the Kingdom’s position, everyone is free to express his view, but our conscience is clear that the Kingdom is carrying out its duties in this regard and this is being emphasized by the Lebanese. Therefore, we do not have anything to apologize for in this regard. As for the summit, there were talks about holding a summit and it was agreed that preparations must take place for any summit that would be held. There must be a specific plan for this summit.

Recently, there was a ministerial meeting of the Arab League. In our view, if a summit is held then they would request a ministerial meeting to be held to prepare an agenda that would be submitted to the summit. We requested that this plan be submitted to the meeting, but nothing happened. If there was a summit to be held, consultations and preparations must take place and there should be something clear in order for it to be held.

Q: How do you respond to those who say that the Arab participation in the Rome conference was giving cover to the continuation of this battle or to stop the resistance in Lebanon and that the Arab participants did not give clear information on the Arab League meeting? My second question -

PRINCE SAUD: Who said that?

Q: Qatar’s foreign minister, Your Highness. My second question, we hear in the media about new Saudi military deals. Does this mean that the Kingdom will rearrange its military arsenal in light of the new developments in the region and the efforts by some countries to acquire unconventional weapons?

PRINCE SAUD: In response to your first question, I have heard that His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Qatar mentioned that he wished that the countries that participated in the Rome conference had consulted Arab countries. [Qatar] is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, but I did not hear from it a question in this regard. When [Qatar] said that it had established relations with Israel and was prepared to take up a collective position in that regard, did they consult anyone? However, the situation is not about responding to such questions. A real catastrophe is taking place and there is a collective Arab position to close ranks and speak with one voice and in the same manner.

Regarding armaments, the region is a dangerous place and the Kingdom’s security is the responsibility of the state. Whatever it sees of measures that are taken to strengthen its capabilities to confront any dangers, it will do, God willing.

Q: My question is preceded by a short prologue. The United States is a superpower that, according to its constitution, calls for spreading democracy, justice, freedom, human values, moral principles and coexistence of peoples. Here, we mention the tendency of the ruling political class in the United States and the base on which it relies in implementing its foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. This bewilders the Arab person in light of the difficult situation in Lebanon.

Two questions, first, why does the United States vehemently oppose a cease-fire or condemnation of Israel, particularly after the Qana massacre? Second question, why do Arab ruling regimes not have a clear position against the US policy which totally sides with Israel, so that this might calm the resentment and anger felt in the Arab street towards the United States and its biased position in favor of the current Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Palestine?

PRINCE SAUD: We are all bewildered by this because we believe that the position that was taken by the United States does not represent the original principles on which US policy is based. We hope that the US will concentrate on these principles with regard to the issue of Lebanon which is a democratic country that has been fiercely attacked by Israel without justification. The Lebanese state had no responsibility in what happened but they face this unjustified and inhumane attack. However, we have high hopes that the United States will revert to its original principles in this regard.

As for Arab countries, they take measures according to their strategy and decisions in this regard. They are striving not only to confront these attacks but to gather all energy to strengthen the capabilities of confrontation. In reading the statement issued by Saudi Arabia a few days ago, there is clear indication of what we should do in these circumstances and the expectations of the intensification of this evil in our region and the need to close ranks to confront it.

Q: Your Highness, the US slackness is shown in its support for Israel’s strike on Lebanon and the fact that it is preparing to strike Syria and Iran. Will this impact on Saudi-US relations and Arab-US relations? My second question: It has been rumored that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques plans to visit several countries. Has the situation in the region delayed this visit, and if so, when will it take place?

PRINCE SAUD: I have not heard that the US supports the strike against Lebanon as you mentioned, or that it will strike Syria and Iran. The blame that one can place on the US is that it has not adopted a position which prevents Israel from striking Lebanon. We hope that if Israel intends to provoke Syria, there will be a US position that will deter it from doing so. The responsibility of the US stems from the fact that it is supplying Israel with weapons. Therefore, there is a moral obligation on the US that these weapons should not be used to kill innocent people. There are US laws, in the US itself, that forbid this. We hope that it [the US] will abide by this.

There are planned visits for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques throughout the year, these are mutual visits. However, they are governed by circumstances in the region and I am certain that the prevailing situation in the region will be taken into account when planning such visits.

Q: Your Highness, why is it that the Arab position does not include an economic aspect? The second question: Does Saudi Arabia intend to rebuild Lebanon if the war stops?

PRINCE SAUD: With regard to the second question, we believe that the Kingdom’s position on assisting Lebanon reflects this stance in a way that is more eloquent than any words. As for your first question about including economic elements: There is economic cooperation in the summit’s decisions which were adopted with the aim of setting up an Arab union and endeavoring to put in place a program to reach this objective. If it is implemented, we believe that it satisfies this aspect of joint Arab action.

Q: You met US President George Bush and it was reported that the message that you were carrying from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques confirmed the demise of the peace process and that the request from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques was that the peace process should be declared dead and the Arab-Israeli conflict should be seen from a new perspective. What is this perspective and how was President Bush’s personal stance during your meeting with him?

PRINCE SAUD: In reality the message was about several issues. First, putting an end to the fighting in Lebanon because it is an urgent matter. Second, all these crises that the Middle East is facing stem, in one way or another, from the core conflict and the key issue, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Israeli-Arab conflict. The United States has a major role to play in reaching a peaceful solution and the Arab states are moving towards a peaceful solution and have decided to move towards this peaceful solution.

But, as the statement issued a few days ago said, patience has its limits. The Arab states have waited all these years and have strived and put forward proposals. All of them were met by Israeli refusal. This requires the international community to shoulder its responsibilities if it does not want the conflict to intensify in this sensitive region of the world and this will not be only at the expense of the regional states but all its evil and harm will also affect the world as a whole.

Q: Your Highness, what did the US president say?

PRINCE SAUD: I relayed his message to His Majesty the King.

Q: What political moves were made by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Iran and France when they visited Lebanon? Given that the Kingdom has its political weight and is making major efforts to bring about peace in Lebanon, when will there be a visit by Saudi Arabia to discuss or consult the Lebanese government from close quarters?

PRINCE SAUD: There is nothing to prevent this from happening and we are now in consultations. There is a move towards convening the Arab League Council in Lebanon and not just a visit, because the meeting of the Arab League Council in Lebanon will be aimed at supporting Lebanon. It will be beneficial both for the Arab situation to ensure that it is not divided on this key issue, and for Lebanon, which is feeling that there is some weakness on the part of the Arab nation.

Q: Your highness, we have heard that there is talk about a new Middle East. Does this mean that the US has indeed begun to feel that there must be a solution for the tension in the region that would achieve the peace that the Arabs are hoping for, or is it a plan for more Israeli hegemony? My other question: Malaysia has called for convening an emergency summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Will this take place?

PRINCE SAUD: We really want to go back to the old Middle East. We’ve only seen more problems and more calamities in the new one. However, in any case, the Middle East is not a region that is empty. It has people living in it and governments, and our destiny is – after God – in the hands of the sons of this nation. If this nation deserves to live, it will unite around us and around itself and will formulate for itself the position that safeguards its interests. I believe in this, in the fact that our destiny is in our hands and not in the hands of others. Whatever the force that is facing us, there are possibilities and capabilities to protect our interests ourselves.

As for the second part of the question: In fact, Malaysia called for a conference of the executive council and the Kingdom is a participating member in this council given that the extraordinary summit was held in Makkah. The presidency council comprises the former presidency and the next one of the ordinary conference, in addition to the secretary general and some states. However, the Kingdom will take part in this meeting even though it is not a member.

Q: Your highness, Israel destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure on the pretext that there are Hezbollah centers. After the strikes it became clear that there is nothing to do with Hezbollah. Will these states ask Israel to rebuild the infrastructure -

PRINCE SAUD: This was a main demand in the statement made by the Lebanese prime minister in Rome, in which he demanded that Israel replace everything that was destroyed. He is right in this regard because it is the perpetrator of the crime who should settle the bill.

Q: Your Highness, some voices calling for using the oil weapon are being heard again in the current conflict. Do you foresee the possibility of using it if the situation worsens?

PRINCE SAUD: We use the oil weapon to the extreme and we rely on oil for developing our capabilities and strengthening our defense, political and economic infrastructure. This is what all the states that are benefiting from this resource are doing. The weapon is well known and so are the economic capabilities, and the two should not be mixed. Oil is one of the economic resources that the state and the Arab situation in general need in order to carry out its duties to satisfy the needs of the citizens. We must not confuse matters for the Arab public opinion, whereby it would perceive that there is an interest in having an impact on something that, in itself, is its interest. God forbid, if we ignore this fact and begin to tamper with the components of our life and launch into reckless adventures in this context, the first to be harmed will be the citizen. This is something that neither this government nor any other sensible government that is aware of the interests of its country wants. Thank you.